The process is managed by the academic associate department of NYUSH for midterm evaluations, and the registration department in New York for the final version.
It is designed to be a platform for students to provide feedback on their learning experiences with respect to professors’ teaching performances. Students’ responses are intended to be confidential.
The evaluation form is presented to all NYU Shanghai students in a reminder email sent around the midterm and final period of each semester.
Most students’ first knowledge of such a course evaluation is learned through these emails. Besides the reminders, the form is also recommended and promoted by both the academic advisors and some of the professors.
“It just feels like this is an example of formalism,” said Junyi Tang, a NYU Shanghai sophomore student majoring in Business and Finance.
“At least as a student, I can’t see any influence this form has made on professors’ teaching,” he added.
“My ICP professor offered bonus points for students to fill out the form,” said Junyi.
Due to such promotions, the course evaluation form has a high awareness among NYU Shanghai students. The awareness also spurs students’ high expectations.
According to survey of 25 students conducted for this story, the top two ranked expectations from the course evaluation form are “formal criteria to evaluate the professors’ teaching performances” and “anonymous communication method between students and professors.”
However, such expectations were not satisfied by the current version of the course evaluation form, leaving students disappointed. On average, they graded the form to be 5 out of 10, a score equivalent to an F in the academic grading system.
It is also widely agreed that they have been filling less course evaluation forms over time.
“I couldn’t imagine how this form would have any effect at all,” said Jingchen Xiao, a NYU Shanghai junior majoring in social science.
The inadequacy of NYU Shanghai’s course evaluation form to satisfy students’ expectations has left them disappointed and seeking improvements.
The students gave several reasons for their disappointment.
The first unsatisfactory aspect is the bad timing in releasing the form.
It is usually distributed at the midterm and final period of the semester, the weeks that students are most overwhelmed with academic pressure.
“I am extremely emotional due to the tightest schedule of the semester in those weeks. The reminder email annoys me just by its sight,” said Qiwen Wang, a NYU Shanghai junior majoring in IMB.
Moreover, the form itself is complicated. Finishing all the questions is a time-consuming process.
“Filling out the form takes too much effort if I don’t have anything particular to say,” said Yifan Li, a NYU Shanghai sophomore majoring in data science. And this discourages her from filling it out in the future, she added.
On the other hand, the questions are considered too broad to enable students to address specific concerns. Jingchen also noted the evaluation questions have been reduced. “The earlier versions had more questions and were more detail focused, compared to the current format,” she explained.
Beyond problems with the design, bad experience is the key factor that drives students away from filling the forms. Junyi mentioned one of his professors ignored all the student feedback and continued delivering “inefficient lectures” throughout the semester.
Jingchen had an even worse experience.
“This professor expected us to learn things by ourselves but was mean and impatient when we make a mistake. We reported such issues in the course evaluation form. The only response we got from her was a complaint saying that she didn’t understand how we could raise such problems in the form,” Jingchen said
Despite such issues, some professors still managed to deliver a positive experience to students with respect to providing feedback by issuing a self-designed survey.
Xiaolin Zeng, visiting assistant professor of Mathematics, said he sets his own feedback survey to be distributed a third of the way through the semester.
“I think it can be a little late for feedback to come after the midterm,” he said.
Friederike Fund, assistant professor of Practice in Psychology, considers her own feedback system to be “an add-on, providing information from students about their thoughts that did not fit in with the specific questions asked in the course evaluation form.”
Both professors acknowledge that they have received constructive advice from students and have made adjustments to their teaching accordingly.
Professor Zeng gave an example: “A handful of students told me that my handwriting is too difficult to recognize, so I decide to type down my lecture script and project it directly on the screen.”
Professor Funk also explained how she learned from the collected feedback about students’ need for lecture slides to support study for the exam.
The Academic Associate team provided some official insight into the midterm course evaluation form.
“It is designed to be a communication platform for students to reflect on their learning experiences and ask for future support from the professors,” said a team member. “We would not review any of the responses, and how the information is going to be used completely depends on the professors,” she added.
The informality is also confirmed by the professors, saying that there’s nothing rigid in the whole process. However, the final course evaluation form, which is managed by the New York registration team, will be considered in formal evaluation of professor’s performances.
Even though the form is not meant to have much formal effect, both students and professors expect it to have greater influence in reference to course enrollment.
Professor Zeng said that he would hope “the students should be encouraged to answer the course evaluation form in a more serious way,” so that professors would have better knowledge about what they need.
On the other hand, the students want it to guide them in the registration process for future semesters’ courses.
“I do hope that this form could at least serve as a reference for the future registration of courses, as the professors’ evaluation score could reflect the majority thought of students,” said Junyi.
“It would be more objective and helpful than hearing the experience of one single student who has taken the course,” he added.
In the meantime, students also suggest a double version method for the designing of course evaluation forms to better engage students.
“I hope that there could be two versions of the course evaluation form. One for general reflection and the other one for expressing concerns. While the first could be made simpler to encourage more people to fill it, the other could get more attention from professors and the university through requiring mandatory responses from professors,” said Yifan.
The different understanding about course evaluation among students and the university has caused the basic form to be poorly regarded by NYU Shanghai students. The disappointment is only enhanced by its debatable format and timing.
Students prefer the course evaluation form to have a more prominent influence on improving their learning experiences.